Biblical disease, six-month cure


Shah Waliullah May 31, 2010

KARACHI: Seventy-five per cent of the country’s leprosy patients are in Karachi and every year, more than 500 people in the country are diagnosed with the disease which causes different parts of the body to become partially paralysed. There are about 375 people in Karachi with the disease.

But what makes matters worse for the patients is the stigma associated with leprosy. As a result, people suffering from it are often ostracised. A leprosy patient, Najeeb, said his condition improved after receiving treatment. Another patient, Noor Jahan, said that she has been undergoing treatment for the past few years. She is one of the luckier ones. She said that her “family comes to visit quite frequently”.

Leprosy treatment takes at least six months but for many people full recovery can take several years. According to government statistics, between 1956 and 2009, 54,000 people were registered as having the disease.

The head of the Marie Laide Leprosy Centre. Dr Ruth Pfau, has said that the increasing population is one reason behind the rising incidence of the disease. Other reasons are government inefficiency and lack of proper facilities for leprosy patients. Hospitals lack the knowhow to treat the disease.

The medical superintendent at the Leprosy Hospital in Manghopir, Dr Muhammad Ali Abbasi, said that the government needs to formulate a proper policy to diagnose and treat the disease on time. The Manghophir hospital was established 110 years ago. Leprosy patients from across the country and even from Bangladesh and Afghanistan have been receiving treatment there.

What is Leprosy?

Leprosy is a chronic, infectious disease affecting the skin and nerves of infected individuals. Pale patches on the skin are usually the first sign of the disease. Antibiotics can quickly kill the bacteria that cause leprosy, so the disease can be completely cured after a few months of treatment. In 2006, approximately 260,000 new cases were reported worldwide. India currently has about 54 per cent of all the new leprosy cases in the world, followed by Brazil with about 17 per cent.

Published in the Express Tribune, June 1st, 2010.

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